Walt Kelly

Have you ever heard of Walt Kelly?  He’s the artist/writer who gave us the comic strip “Pogo” back in the 1950’s through the ’70’s.  I’ve been a fan of his ever since my father bought a copy of Kelly’s book, “The Pogo Papers” (1953) in 1954.  The book was a compilation of earlier Pogo comic strips and it introduced me to Kelly’s particular style of drawing and writing.  I was immediately hooked and I’ve followed Kelly and his strip ever since.  Kelly died in 1973, but his estate decided not to allow his strip to be reprinted again the way the estate of Charles Schulz did for “Peanuts,” so Kelly’s work is limited to his books.  I’m calling Kelly a writer as well as an artist because of the written parts of his comic strip books.  I refer you especially to the opening comments in “The Pogo Papers” and “G. O. Fizzickle Pogo” (1958).  (I’m sure these books are out of print but you might be able to obtain a copy at a used-book store, or perhaps through Amazon or Abebooks.  They may have back copies.)  Kelly’s unique method of storytelling has fascinated me for as long as I’ve been reading his stuff.

“Pogo” is the comic strip that followed characters who lived in the Okefenokee Swamp in southern Georgia: Pogo Possum, Albert Alligator, Churchy LaFemme the turtle, Howland Owl, and many others.  But Kelly was also known to put a political spin on some of his characters, such as Wiley Catt, an obvious take-off on the gun-toting ultra conservative (and probably racist) Southerner of the 40’s and 50’s, and the Honorable Mole MacCarony, a caricature of Senator Joseph McCarthy.  McCarony was extremely nearsighted and went around spraying everyone with disinfectant.

Kelly was a poet too, and some of his best writings were poems.  He liked to play with words, substituting similar-sounding words in well-known poems and songs.  He’s the one who modified “Deck the halls with boughs of holly” into “Deck us all with Boston Charlie.”  He even wrote a book with that line as the title, giving stories as to how the (modified) carol came to be.  All the lyrics are in there if you care to look them up.

But Kelly’s poems could be serious.  One of my favorites is a short one titled “For the Mother of Kathryn Barbara” from 1953. Here it is:

There’s a star in the wind
and the wind winds high,
Blowing alight
thru fog, thru night.
Thru cold, thru cold
and the bitter alone…
There high in the wind
rides a Star, my own,
And the Star is a Word…
of white, of white…
And the Star in the wind
is a Word.

Since this is the Christmas season as I write this in 2012, I’ll end this blog with another poem of Kelly’s, “With Apologies to a Year Gone By”:

The gentle journey jars to stop,
The drifting dream is done
And now we’ll walk
As men have walked
Through years not yet begun.
For Christmas is a nightlong hope
And Hope the search of years.
The gentle journey wanders on
With laughter, love and tears—

That’s enough for now.

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  1. #1 by toesinthedirt on April 4, 2017 - 12:42 AM

    My dad kept several books of Pogo, which I read and re-read, and memorized “Star in the Wind” in high school, so I could write it (in mirror image print) in all my classmates’ yearbooks. Names my blog after the poem. It expressed then, and still does now, something that resonates for reasons I can’t explain. Thanks for the Christmas poem.

    • #2 by rogerfloyd on April 8, 2017 - 3:08 PM

      I apologize for not replying sooner, but WordPress changed some things on its format and I had to figure out how to get to the comments section. I too have several books of Pogo, about 20. I first read Pogo in “The Pogo Papers,” and practically memorized that book. I think I could recite “Star in the Wind” myself now too. It, like the Christmas poem, is one of my favorites, though Walt Kelly is not considered a great poet, largely because most of his poems were kind of light weight.

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